Monday, 29 November 2010


Today's big news story is undoubtedly the WikiLeaks release of a huge number of formerly confidential classified documents, including a lot of communications by (in particular) American embassies.

There is an interesting look at the implications at the America in the World website.

Inevitably the diplomatic communications include a number of short and snappy opinions by embassy staff and others about influential figures including national leaders, and the media coverage so far seems to be concentrating on those. Perhaps the most useful (reasonably comprehensive but not too long to wade through) is in The Express.

Well, of course this sort of opinion is going to feature heavily in cabled and similar communications, especially from diplomatic posts as they need to inform political leaders and senior officials (among others, if less directly) of the natures of those with whom they will be dealing. It isn't exactly surprising that, amongst all that, there will be snippets suitable for media headlines, so perhaps we shouldn't be taken aback at the tone in those headlines and articles, especially where criticism of British governments past and present appears.

The trick is to realise how the world works and treat these particular disclosures as an education in how behind-the-scenes intelligence sometimes needs to operate. Put oneself in the position of a presidential aide rushing from one activity to another, and having to be briefed en route to the next. Short, to the point assessments of how the upcoming task needs to be handled will be essential as part of that preparation.

I can certainly picture all this happening out there in the real world, so am not jumping up and down at the WikiLeaks revelations that have so far entered the public domain (I understand that the leak document itself is encrypted) and intend to calmly watch the bigger story unfold over the days and weeks to come.

As for whether this material should have been leaked in the first place: no, it almost certainly shouldn't have been; and this will now force those whose classified materials have been divulged to significantly change how they operate in future. I can think of several ways that could be done; but ultimately it will result in what history will judge to be a negative outcome as far as the broader public interest is concerned.

Especially with modern technology, especially encryption, but also with "code words" with other meanings within the agencies using them, ways will now be found to avoid a repetition of this potentially harmful (e.g. to in-the-field armed forces) action being possible or of any value to our enemies.

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